“Because…Jesus.”

The final sermon preached by Rev. Katie Owen Aumann, Presbyterian Campus Minister at Duke
April 23, 2017

Philippians 1:1-11

In the days of the early church, a few faithful disciples met in the catacombs. They started as small communities and brought their friends. As those of you who studied Acts this semester know, scripture says that

“all who believed were together and had all things in common…they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship and to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42, 44).

They faced adversity from the culture around them and tried to live counter-culturally by sharing the good news of God’s love in Jesus.

In short, the church met in the chapel basement, started as a couple people and expanded into a broader community. We ate meals together. We shared food points and t-shirts and class notes. We embraced grace when the world expected performance; we stood up when the marginalized were persecuted. And we gathered to hear God’s word proclaimed and to pray for one another. We may meet late on Sunday nights but PCM+ is as much the early church as it ever was.

In the days of the early church, Paul helped plant churches all over the Mediterranean, including a church at Philippi. He met faithful disciples, walked with them, taught them what he could, and gave thanks for their generosity. But Paul couldn’t stay at one church forever, and so he remained in connection with the churches he formed and planted through letters.

Paul gets a bad rap sometimes. Ever the rhetorician, sometimes his sermons were long and irksome. Sometimes he stuck to societal stereotypes and said some less than stellar things about women, LGBTQ folk, slaves…you get the idea. Sometimes he made a fool out of himself. But his letter to the Philippians is one of love, of encouragement, or hope, but above all, it’s a letter reminding the church in Phillipi that all of this…ALL OF THIS…is not about Paul and some club he created, but about Jesus the Christ, whose compassion, love, humility and grace are why we gather, why we strive to live the way we live, and why we do what we do.

It’s an emotional time for all of us. Whether you’re…

stressed out because of a paper due tomorrow, or

anxious because you’re still sorting out your summer plans, or

fretting the looming reality of graduation, or

sad about the transitions happening in this community, or

celebrating being done with a class or the beauty of spring, or

all of those things stirred up into one,

it’s an emotional time. And like the early church, we bring all of ourselves to the Christian community we have here.

And as Paul points out in his letter to the Philippians, we’re able to share all of this and support one another because: JESUS. That’s why.

 

Because Jesus walked alongside those who were stressed and anxious and said, “Come to me, you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.” (Matt 18:28)

Because Jesus sat at table with his disciples the night before he was betrayed, and tied a towel around his waist and washed their feet and then broke bread and shared the cup and said, “even if we are apart, do this in remembrance of me.”

Because Jesus rejoiced with those whose eyes were opened and who took up their mat and walked and who found new life and new joy and new hope and Jesus declared, “Your faith has made you well. Your faith has made you whole.”

Because Jesus appeared to the disciples on the road and over breakfast and gave the Spirit to us and told us to be Christ’s body—hands and feet in the world—showing the same love and mercy and grace and peace that Jesus did.

We are able to bring all of ourselves to this community, because JESUS.

That doesn’t mean it’s not a challenging time. Grief—like waves—will hit each of us. Part of why Paul wrote is because it’s hard to be apart from those you love. Whether you’re a senior who will grieve the absence of the predictable familiarity of the chapel basement and these people you’ve come to count on for hugs and laughter and more than a few pranks OR you’re an underclassman who is grieving the transition and change that is to come when you’ll see a new person sitting in the office and will have to come to build trust and learn the rhythms of a new pastor, grief will hit you.

And while Kubler-Ross nicely gives us five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, I’m here to tell you they don’t happen in a predictable order and they’ll sneak up and surprise you sometimes. So let grief be just that, grief. As Katie Becker so aptly preached, we know the power of Jesus because Jesus grieved when he lost his friend Lazarus. Even though he knew Lazarus would rise, Jesus wept. And Jesus went through all the stages of grief in his own journey to the cross:

He got ridiculously mad at the money changers in the temple,
which while worth getting mad, it wasn’t really about that; it was grief’s anger

He tried to talk God out of it (bargaining):
Father, if it’s possible take this cup.

He passed off the role of denial to Peter
who so quickly denied Jesus three times

He went off into the garden to pray and was deeply grieved (depression)

And he faced the cross with daring acceptance:
Father, not my will but thy will be done.

Jesus’ humanity showed us that all of the grief we experience is warranted and even holy. But Jesus also showed us that our grief is not the end of the story because Jesus did not stay on the cross—he rose again and walks with us still in the hugs, smiles, laughter, and prayers of the church at Phillipi and PCM.

Because JESUS.

But Paul’s letter to the Philippians also fits perfectly my feelings and words for you, my sisters and brothers. His letter is first and foremost a word of thanksgiving.

I’m thankful for:

  • Your devotion that led to selling Krispy Kreme at the bus stop and walk up lines to raise money for hunger in Durham and getting up at the crack of to serve breakfast at Urban Ministries and several of you going weekly to Reality Ministries or to visit sweet Ruth Jane at the nursing home
  • Your hilarious creativity that has resulted in my office being gift wrapped, PCM promo videos with a full script being made shot and published, memes—many of which I’ve never seen and probably should never–see being shared.
  • Your commitment to this community—whether it’s showing up on a Sunday night of a busy week or stopping what you’re doing to bake or meet up for food or show up with special goodies to make a PCM friend having a rough week feel better
  • Your honest vulnerability and your willingness to share the not-so-put-together parts of your life with me. Whether it was roommate issues or sexual assault or divorce or loss of a grandparent or stress about a class or a relationship break-up, I am thankful that you found a place on this campus where you could be real and you entrusted me with the raw, less polished parts of your self—because sometimes those are the most beautiful. There are weeks that the Kleenex and Mars Chocolate companies owe us a debt of gratitude for our contributions to their bottom line as well.
  • Your laughter and your ability to make one another laugh, often at my expense.
  • Your questions, the ones that kept me on my toes and made me think; the ones that led me to super nerdy theological conversations about predestination and providence and grace and eschatology; the ones that start with, “we’ve got a theological question for you:” that always made me gulp inside but smile on the outside; the ones that lead me to explain the entire history of the church and denominationalism on the back of a napkin at div café; the ones that helped me be a better Christian.
  • And I’m thankful too for your willingness to ask questions without easy answers—or sometimes without any answers—because they help us grow deeper in faith.
  • I’m thankful for so much more but I’m probably most thankful for the ways that you pray for one another. So, Lord in thanksgiving, hear our prayer.

As much as Paul’s letter is a word of thanksgiving, it is second and more importantly, a word of encouragement.And so on this final PCM of the school year and my final PCM with you in this place, I want to encourage you:

  • Keep asking questions—the important ones, the real ones, the ones that will make the next campus ministers’ head spin.
  • Pay attention when the grief hits you; if you find yourself weirdly angry or sad or avoiding the office just because it’s different, pay attention to the fact that it’s grief. Let it be grief. But don’t stay sad or stay away for too long and miss what God is still doing here.
  • Give the next person a chance. Ask the hard theological questions and listen attentively. Let him or her know what kind of candy you like. Dare to share the vulnerable parts of yourself and receive the prayer and encouragement he or she will offer. And then, when you’re ready for acceptance, gift wrap their office. I’ve been told it takes about 13 roles of wrapping paper.
  • Keep praying for one another—on the GroupMe, in person, in worship. To share in one another’s highs and lows, to know how you’re doing—emotionally, relationally, physically and spiritually, to ask “how are you?” and really mean it, and then to hold one another in prayer is the greatest gift you can offer each other.
  • Keep being the community you’ve created:
    • The one that welcomes ALL people as beloved children of God
    • The one that shows up at vigils when those on the margins on this campus or in the world are threatened or marginalized
    • The one that occupies the chapel basement as if it’s your own, even though apparently other people work here too
    • The one obsessed with Montreat (Cole)—don’t worry, the house is already booked for the fall AND for college conference
    • The one that is known on campus for its love, welcome, and care
    • The one that practices GRACE ABOUNDING with each other
    • The one that gathers and loves and laughs and prays together…

Because JESUS.

But above all else and perhaps most importantly, Paul’s letter to the church in Phillipi is a word of hope and prayer. And so, like Paul, I want to leave you with a prayer from my all-time favorite prayer book by Ted Loder called Guerrillas of Grace, so let us pray:

O God of fire and freedom,
deliver me from my bondage
to what can be counted
and go with me in a new exodus
toward what counts,
but can only be measured
in bread shared
and swords become plowshares;
in bodies healed
and minds liberated;
in songs sung
and justice done;
in laughter in the night
and joy in the morning;
in love through all seasons
and great gladness of heart;
in all people coming together
and a kingdom coming in glory;
in your name being praised
and my becoming an alleluia,
[because JESUS.] Amen.

 

Mission Trip Reflection: Mercy Church

As part of the 2016 spring break mission trip, PCM students worshipped with Mercy Church, a church for the materially poor and homeless in midtown Atlanta.  This congregation practices radical hospitality and abundant love for all who walk through the doors.  Junior Courtney Trutna (P’17) shares her reflection on worshipping with them.

What was something surprising you saw in Atlanta? 

Mercy Church. What a place. What a rag-tag room. What a statement— “I’m feeling sick, but well, I never miss church, not since coming to Atlanta.” A place where there is no hesitation of welcome, no batting of eyes when a man rolls up halfway through service and repacks a bag while we sing and sells a cigarette during the sermon but I guess he’s here and that’s enough.

I’ve seen welcoming congregations— this was different. This was truly come as you are, sick or well, clean or dirty, just come.

And yes, it was run by a white pastor and white interns who probably all have homes, but there was still some sense of congregation, I guess, of a right to worship. There was still the Lord’s Prayer said by all, and again in Spanish. There were no pews, but there was undeniably God.

They began worship with remembering your baptism by pouring the water from up high, such that it splashed out on the floor and I felt the need to grab a mop, but there was something real and needed about grace overflowing and an acceptance of a bit of chaos and an acknowledgment that drums made from packaging table and empty coffee containers are drums enough, and that broken guitar strings don’t stop worship and partially rusting shopping carts are perfectly good transporters of supplies because neither we nor worship has to be polished or perfect to be pleasing to God. And yes there are problems, but first there is love.

Student Homily: Gospel, Prisons, What To Do

Katie Becker (T’17) is studying abroad in Nicaragua and is an active part of PCM+.  She shares this homily she wrote for a liberation theology course during her abroad experience.  

Matthew 25:34-40
Visiting the Prisoner

The passage that you just heard is one of the most frequently cited texts of the Christian Bible. Christians frequently refer to this verse as a charge to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, and care for the sick. Rarely, though, have I heard this passage employed as a call to visit the prisoner. And yet it’s there in the text. Jesus says that when we visit the prisoner in jail, it is as though we are visiting him in jail. Whatever we do for the “least of these” – in this case, the prisoner – we do for God. In Matthew and the Margins, Scholar Warren Carter writes that the act of visiting those in prison, in the time period, meant many things. It meant providing food, drink, and clothing. Such an act, he says, is powerful in that it is “contrary to dominant cultural practices” and because it is concerned for “the needs of the other, not the social credit of the giver” (p. 495).

This is further powerful because Jesus, who had at this point been declared as the Messiah and the Son of God, chooses to identify himself with the poor, with the excluded, and with the incarcerated. And such an identification is not without basis – Jesus will, in the very next chapter of Matthew, be arrested and put on trial. Shortly after, he will be executed. And so, we see that Jesus’ life and teachings are very much concerned with the welfare of those in prison.

So why then aren’t more Christians?

The good news is that some Christians and others, in Costa Rica, in the United States, and around the world, are concerned with the well being of those in prison. Many prison ministries, like the one Leah mentioned, exist here and in the United States. The brave Hermanas del Buen Pastor managed the Carcel de las Mujeres (women’s prison) for nearly 50 years with an emphasis on empathy and grace. Then, when they saw people being imprisoned for their beliefs – beliefs like liberation theology – they refused to participate anymore in a system they saw as oppressive. That is bravery. That is liberating.

So what can we do? What steps can we take to bring justice to “the least of these”?

We can, quite literally, visit those in prison. I am of the belief that every American should spend some time in a prison, seeing what goes on behind those walls. Whether through a class, through an organization, or through a ministry, we shouldn’t allow ourselves to live in ignorance about what’s happening in our own backyards.

We can educate ourselves. Books like The New Jim Crow and Are Prisons Obsolete? should be required reading for US students. We should understand how the United States, through its free trade and neoliberal policies and its War on Drugs, has exported the structure of its prison system and harsh criminal justice system to other countries around the world. And we can educate others. We can talk about our criminal justice system in academic contexts, in social contexts, and in religious contexts.

Lastly, we can simply acknowledge the humanity of those in prison. Each year, my campus ministry writes a Christmas card to every single death row inmate in North Carolina. My pastor once heard an NPR story about death row inmates who said that the worst thing about being on death row was that everyone – society, their families – forgets them. One of the inmates commented that one year, he didn’t even get a Christmas card. Thus began the practice. For the longest time, I didn’t understand why we did that. Why not do something tangible? And why concern ourselves with people on death row, who are probably murderers and rapists?

Through this class, I’ve come to understand the value of mutual acknowledgement, or seeing the humanity in the person the dominant social structure tells you to exclude. Because when you see the humanity in that person, we are acting for the least of these brothers and sisters. And, the scripture tells us, we are acting for Jesus.

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

A Word for the Class of 2019 (and upperclassmen too)

This is a repost of a blog I wrote last year that I still believe is relevant and important as you venture off to college (or return this fall).  We’ll call it “food for thought” for the collegiate journey.

Hugs,
The Rev

You’ve been dreaming of this day forever…college…Duke.  You got in! God is good! You are about to arrive at Duke in the heat of August in North Carolina and unload all your treasures and earthly possessions into the dorm room you’re about to call “home.” Your mom will keep trying to put a picture of the family beside your bed and you will roll your eyes at your roommate trying to cover your embarrassment.  The time will come to send your parents back on the road and let this new adventure begin.  “Geez, Mom, no kisses! Didn’t we get over that in middle school!?!”  Secretly, you’ll soak up that last hug.

blog post-freshmenThe admissions staff told you if you came to Duke you could pursue everything you’re passionate about and that attending Duke will help you change the world.  You’ve checked it all off the list to get in: good grades, AP classes, volunteering, church, participation in sports and music and art.  You’ve filled up that calendar with activities and then packaged them together into a star-studded college resume.

Soon you’ll be here…in a hot dorm room…with a roommate you’ve never met…and you’re wondering to yourself: WHAT THE HECK AM I DOING HERE? WHAT AM I PASSIONATE ABOUT? WHERE DO I BEGIN?

Maybe you’ll think to yourself, “please God, show me the way…” or perhaps more honestly, “Seriously, God?  This is what you brought me all this way for? This is NOT all it’s cracked up to be!”

Maybe everything will go fantastically and you will want to jump up and down and say “Thank you, Jesus!” not particularly because you’re thinking about Jesus but that’s just what you say when you’re jumping out of your skin with thanks that college is not a total disaster.

So as you prepare and as you arrive, know the following:

1)    You are amazing.
The admissions staff was right.  You have an abundance of God-given gifts and you are being welcomed into a place where you can use all those gifts in any way you choose.  On the days when you feel small, remember that you were fearfully and wonderfully made by a loving God.  Then call your mom and have her remind you why she loves you too.  Moms are good at that (plus, you’ll make your mom’s day).

2)    Other people are also amazing.
If you feel on top of the world, remember that there’s probably someone nearby who doesn’t feel that way right now and keep an eye out for that person; they’re just as wonderful and might be just the person you need to get to know.  If you feel intimidated by the talent around you, remember that even the most amazing person nearby is still a person, who needs basic things—friends, love, care, and dinner at the Marketplace; that gregarious person is not too good for you.

3)    Choose wisely.
Duke wasn’t lying that there are a plethora of opportunities and you will be tempted to sign up for 500 activities.  Sign up.  Check them out.  Discover a new passion.  But then choose.  Choose the two or three or four (but seriously, not more than four) things that are worthy of your unique investment.

4)    Don’t forget to take care of yourself.
Your brain will get a workout at Duke, no doubt.  There are an abundance of club sports, running trails, and a fully-equipped gym to keep your body healthy.  But don’t forget that your soul needs care too.  Find a discipline that gives you space for reflection and rest.  Maybe its prayer, scripture, devotions, remembering that you actually like to read for fun and not just for homework.  Whatever it is, care for your whole self, and then find a group that will support you in that venture as well.  Which, of course, means its time for a shameless plug….

5)    Engage in a faith community.
Duke PCM offers you a home away from home and a place to be supported at Duke. What will you discover?  A group that’s asking questions and laughing and praying and trying to put all the pieces of their lives and scholarship and service together with their faith.  It’s a place to encounter the living God.  It’s a place to love and be loved.  It’s a place to help you find that unique purpose and call that will enable you to use your God-given gifts to change the world.

Student Blog: Finding Home

IMG_3828As I sat on the plane, watching cloud-covered mountains pass by, I couldn’t help but wonder what I was getting myself into. I was an 18-year-old recent high school grad, leaving home for a seemingly indefinite amount of time as I traveled to Duke for begin a new phase of my life. I was currently freaking out about how to make friends, how to pass my classes, and exactly what a Marketplace swipe was. How was I to know that before long, I would be friends with the barista in Perkins, I would get coffee with my professors, and I would get free dinners every Sunday night with PCM+.

Unbeknownst to me, there was already someone hard at work to help make Duke feel like home. Earlier in the summer, my parents had received a letter from Katie Owen (now Aumann), the Presbyterian Campus Minister at Duke. Although my parents were ecstatic that they had surely found the perfect religious group for me, I wanted to be free to explore all of my options on campus. At the religious life fair, I introduced myself to Katie, but also went around to several different tables, picking up information packets and getting promised rides to church left and right.

Two months and an abundance of free food later, I was thoroughly confused. Each group I tried out had something distinct to offer, and I enjoyed spending time with each. However, I knew my social calendar couldn’t take much more indecision on my part. At some point, I needed to make a decision about what I wanted out of my faith journey at Duke, and who I wanted to walk in that journey with. Hence, I decided to meet for coffee with each of the religious leaders I had met, and finally resolve my internal struggle. Each had their own spiel about why their group was the best fit for me, which only clouded my judgment further.

However, when I met with Katie for a locopop on a hot Thursday afternoon, I could see God’s hand pointing me in the right direction.  Katie wasn’t afraid to be honest with me about my options. She didn’t pressure me to pick PCM+, but spoke candidly about the positive aspects of each religious group I was considering. I felt as though she genuinely cared about my spiritual well being, regardless of where it was coming from. I could feel God’s spirit alive and well in Katie, and her infectious laughter put me at ease. After our conversation and fall retreat weekend in Montreat, I knew I had found my new home.

And now, two years later, calling PCM home would be an understatement. PCM quickly became my support system on campus, filled with my favorite people who are always down to take study breaks, hug a fellow Presbyterian, and eat lots and lots of chocolate. Although I live on central campus, I spend more time in the chapel basement than I do in my own apartment. Our group is so much more than a group of people who worship together. We have become a close-knit, yet always inviting, eclectic group of students whom I feel so blessed to call my best friends.

Student Blog: Some Doubt About It

By Graeme Peterson (T’17)

graemepeterson

This summer, I read a book called “A Prayer for Owen Meany” by John Irving. It’s a story about growing up, friendship, and faith in God. At one point in the novel, the main character and narrator, young Johnny Wheelwright, describes his pastor, Mr. Merrill.

“Mr. Merrill,” he says, “was most appealing because he reassured us that doubt was the essence of faith and not faith’s opposite.”

Johnny Wheelwright’s sentiments ring true. Doubt, it seems, is inextricably bound to faith. We even declare it in worship: great is the mystery of faith! Yet, we are called to believe without seeing, and I would be remiss if I didn’t say that that is a tall task. Faith is difficult. Faith is complicated. At times, faith even feels irrational.

To quote Owen Meany, “faith takes practice.”

 

And it does! Faith is challenging, but if faith is the challenge then critically thinking about faith is how we rise to the task. Reading the Bible critically, thinking analytically about what faith means, and asking hard questions about God are how we practice. In other words, we doubt. We don’t take everything for granted, we don’t shy away from the parts of faith that are difficult, but we take a serious look at what the Bible says and ask: why is this here? How does this fit into a larger Biblical narrative?

And for me, at least, that’s when I grow most in faith. Having Bible verses stored away is comforting in difficult times, but when the most existential faith questions arise I find that I grow more by facing those questions with a group, with a faith community, that is willing to let doubt in so that faith may flourish.

When I walk into Katie Owen’s office with a difficult question about theology or a part of my faith that doesn’t sit well, I am not turned away for having doubts or questions. My concerns and critical voice are not quelled, because PCM+ is a group that recognizes that doubt is indeed an essential part of faith, and that growing in faith means asking questions about it. We discuss, ask the hard questions, and I usually leave with a more thorough understanding of faith, and a stronger faith, than I had before.

That’s what I love about PCM+. It is a place where my doubt is embraced, where my questions are valued, and the inevitable difficulties of having faith on a college campus are faced head on. And, best of all, we take on those difficult questions as a group — it is not a solo venture.

In the classroom, professors demand that we have much more than a surface level understanding of our material. Why should faith be any different? Instead of settling for what might be easy answers about faith, answers that we have heard repeated for years, why not engage our faith? Why not ask the difficult questions that help us to grow? The answer, I think, is that it’s frightening, and it certainly is. But asking questions of God and having doubts about God doesn’t make us bad Christians — it makes us human.

I’ve been going to Sunday school and worship for nineteen years and I would be kidding myself if I pretended that I had faith figured out. I still ask questions, I still have my doubts each and every day, and that’s okay. Questioning, thinking, and evaluating our call as Christians and our faith in God are essential because that is what faith is. Faith is challenging. Faith is a lifelong journey. Faith is a constant becoming.

 

Faith takes practice.

 

Graeme Peterson is a Trinity sophomore studying public policy.  He currently serves as the PCM+ Moderator.  

Student Blog–Inclusivity: As Special As It Is Rare

by Katie Becker (T’17)

katiebeckerA little over one year ago, at my convocation, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Christoph Guttentag told my class that we represented “the final culmination of the most selective admissions process in [Duke’s] history.”

There is a reason that Duke’s administrators, printed materials, and website all boast about record low admission rates.  It is why we offer hundreds of campus tours each year and send out thousands of glossy admission brochures.  It’s why we encourage everyone to apply, knowing full well that there are already far too many qualified applicants for the number of available beds. The underlying assumption is that exclusivity is synonymous with quality.

Indeed, the message of Guttentag’s speech to us was clear: because so many people had not been accepted into the Class of 2017, those of us that had made the cut must be, you know, ***flawless.

i woke up like dis

Now, part of me is as attracted to exclusivity as the next girl.  Did Duke’s low acceptance rate play a part in my decision to attend? Absolutely.  I understand that my criticism of the exclusive = good mindset might seem hypocritical, since I myself have benefited from it (and will, no doubt, benefit from it in my future endeavors).

But I am beginning to recognize that there’s something dangerous about groups and institutions that define themselves more by who is rejected than by who is accepted. There are plenty of groups on this campus that recruit, recruit, recruit…solely for the purpose of being able to reject, reject, reject.  Would this campus’s “top” social groups be as highly regarded if other people weren’t tricked into thinking that they themselves are not worthy of inclusion?

Ultimately, this is damaging for those who are excluded and for the members who feel a constant need to prove themselves.  There is a point where group membership is desirable only because it’s exclusive, not because it’s valuable.

 

This is why I’m so thankful that my most treasured community at Duke is not based in exclusion.

Rather, it is a community that holds steadfastly to the value of inclusion, emphasizing that there is a place for everybody to come as they are.

This is a community that supports its members in the happy times, like sharing summer memories and welcoming new members with ice cream and icebreakers.  But it is also a community whose magic truly comes out when one of its members is struggling and needs support.

This community is Presbyterian Campus Ministries.

 

Now, if you had told me one year ago that my closest community at Duke would be a faith group, I might have laughed in your face.  I’d never been to a Bible study, and contemporary Christian music puzzled me (the former of these has changed, as I now attend “B-Stud” semi-regularly, but the latter hasn’t). I’m a doubter at heart, and I’m instinctually skeptical of religious groups that are new to me. I’ve always put a lot of effort into distancing myself from the dominant images of what it means to be Christian in this country – I’m a staunch liberal and a third wave feminist.  I’m also not a Presbyterian; I’m a confirmed member of the United Church of Christ (though, as I’m learning, we’re not that different).

And yet, something drew me – and continues to draw me – to PCM.

Maybe it’s because Katie “The Rev” Owen is overflowing with humor, wisdom, and joy.  She advises me on anything from my most profound theological conundrums to my most banal boy troubles.  Or maybe it’s because I’ve met people here who, though we sometimes disagree, seem eager to listen to my thoughts, ideas, and doubts.  I like to think that I push this group, and it pushes me.  Or maybe it’s because I know that I can always find a fellow PCM-er to laugh, cry, or laugh-until-we-cry with me in the chapel basement.

At Duke, at least in my experience, a group like PCM is as special as it is rare.

 

So, here’s my advice for the Class of 2018 (for all Duke students, really, because finding these communities can take time):

Find a community that defines itself not by how many people are left out of it, but by all the wonderful people who are welcomed into it.  Find friends who lift you up not only when you feel effortlessly perfect, but also when you feel effortfully flawed. Find and cherish people who will love you unconditionally, whether or not you meet the mainstream Duke metrics of success.

This advice applies as much to atheists as it does to the most devout among us.  Not all secular communities are exclusive.  All faith groups are certainly not universally accepting (in the interest of ecumenism, I won’t name names).  But when you find friends that do accept you as you are, in the good times and the bad, no strings attached…invest in those relationships!

Ask someone out to coffee to chat and catch up.

Put as much effort into your relationships as you put into Orgo II.  Your dean won’t tell you this, but organic friendships are just as important as organic chemistry.

And, please, no matter what selective groups you join, don’t forget about the friends who loved you even before you wore Greek letters or moved in with your SLG.

Looking for friends like that? I might know of some

 

Katie is a sophomore studying psychology.  This year, she is serving as PCM’s interfaith council representative.

A Word for the Class of 2018

You’ve been dreaming of this day forever…college…Duke.  You got in! God is good! You are about to arrive at Duke in the heat of August in North Carolina and unload all your treasures and earthly possessions into the dorm room you’re about to call “home.” Your mom will keep trying to put a picture of the family beside your bed and you will roll your eyes at your roommate trying to cover your embarrassment.  The time will come to send your parents back on the road and let this new adventure begin.  “Geez, Mom, no kisses! Didn’t we get over that in middle school!?!”  Secretly, you’ll soak up that last hug.

blog post-freshmenThe admissions staff told you if you came to Duke you could pursue everything you’re passionate about and that attending Duke will help you change the world.  You’ve checked it all off the list to get in: good grades, AP classes, volunteering, church, participation in sports and music and art.  You’ve filled up that calendar with activities and then packaged them together into a star-studded college resume.

Soon you’ll be here…in a hot dorm room…with a roommate you’ve never met…and you’re wondering to yourself: WHAT THE HECK AM I DOING HERE? WHAT AM I PASSIONATE ABOUT? WHERE DO I BEGIN?

Maybe you’ll think to yourself, “please God, show me the way…” or perhaps more honestly, “Seriously, God?  This is what you brought me all this way for? This is NOT all it’s cracked up to be!”

Maybe everything will go fantastically and you will want to jump up and down and say “Thank you, Jesus!” not particularly because you’re thinking about Jesus but that’s just what you say when you’re jumping out of your skin with thanks that college is not a total disaster.

So as you prepare and as you arrive, know the following:

1)    You are amazing.
The admissions staff was right.  You have an abundance of God-given gifts and you are being welcomed into a place where you can use all those gifts in any way you choose.  On the days when you feel small, remember that you were fearfully and wonderfully made by a loving God.  Then call your mom and have her remind you why she loves you too.  Moms are good at that (plus, you’ll make your mom’s day).

2)    Other people are also amazing.
If you feel on top of the world, remember that there’s probably someone nearby who doesn’t feel that way right now and keep an eye out for that person; they’re just as wonderful and might be just the person you need to get to know.  If you feel intimidated by the talent around you, remember that even the most amazing person nearby is still a person, who needs basic things—friends, love, care, and dinner at the Marketplace; that gregarious person is not too good for you.

3)    Choose wisely.
Duke wasn’t lying that there are a plethora of opportunities and you will be tempted to sign up for 500 activities.  Sign up.  Check them out.  Discover a new passion.  But then choose.  Choose the two or three or four (but seriously, not more than four) things that are worthy of your unique investment.

4)    Don’t forget to take care of yourself.
Your brain will get a workout at Duke, no doubt.  There are an abundance of club sports, running trails, and a fully-equipped gym to keep your body healthy.  But don’t forget that your soul needs care too.  Find a discipline that gives you space for reflection and rest.  Maybe its prayer, scripture, devotions, remembering that you actually like to read for fun and not just for homework.  Whatever it is, care for your whole self, and then find a group that will support you in that venture as well.  Which, of course, means its time for a shameless plug….

5)    Engage in a faith community.
Duke PCM offers you a home away from home and a place to be supported at Duke. What will you discover?  A group that’s asking questions and laughing and praying and trying to put all the pieces of their lives and scholarship and service together with their faith.  It’s a place to encounter the living God.  It’s a place to love and be loved.  It’s a place to help you find that unique purpose and call that will enable you to use your God-given gifts to change the world.  

Lenten Devotional by Rev. Katie Owen (T’06)

Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around,

Through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?

-“The Summons”

The sun scorched down upon the dry earth as we walked through the desert on a Tuesday morning with intentionality in our step.  Walking carelessly through the Mexican desert was a surefire way to end up ensnared in a bramble bush or laden with cactus thorns, but our intention wasn’t simply about avoiding those impediments in the path.  We walked with intentionality in our step and compassion in our hearts because we were walking a road of suffering and death that Mexican migrants walked daily.  We walked during the day with multiple BPA-free water bottles full of filtered water on a path that many migrants ran in the dark of night with just the clothes on their back.

desertAs I walked, I couldn’t help but think of Jesus on this final Holy week in the Lenten journey.  Jesus ate a simple final meal with his closest friends, as I imagine most migrants do with their families before preparing for a road to the border that they know may bring death even as they long for the ability to experience new life for themselves and their loved ones.  Jesus wore the crown of thorns—thorns that I was avoiding through careful steps—on his head for all to see.  Jesus bore the heavy cross and the sin of the world on his back; I walked upright carrying only the burdens of injustice that I bear by participating in broken political systems as an American.  Jesus thirsted and his only reprieve was sour wine; I enjoyed the splash of cool fresh water on my parched lips as we walked.  Jesus died in the hot sun at midday high atop a hilltop and high atop a cross, offering forgiveness and welcome into his kingdom even as he breathed his last and died at the hands of an unjust political system and a fearful religious community.  I walked to the foot of the steel, 30-foot fence at the border and looked up, wishing I could bear a word of welcome to sojourners longing to enter a country of hope and promise but aware that the fence communicated something else entirely.

The Duke Presbyterian-Lutheran mission team journeyed through the desert and we all journey through Lent as Christians aware that our walk is only a glimpse of the walk that Jesus took on our behalf.  We journey through Lent looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who has paved the road of life and hope for us through his death.  We arrive at Good Friday and stand at the foot of the cross, or in the shadow of a towering border fence, aware that there are injustices still in our world.  We long for the kingdom of God to be made real and true not just in heaven but among us as well, and we pray “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”

The evening after we walked in the Mexican desert, we crossed through US Customs, aware of our privilege, to attend a border vigil for all the individuals who had died in vigilCochise county, Arizona as a result of immigration.  We read names and laid white wooden crosses along the side of the road to remember.  We remember their desire for new life that was unrealized.  We remember the injustices that persist.  We remember the lives of individuals we didn’t know but who were special to God.  I placed a cross in the road labeled “no identificado” and wondered if I was holding the cross of Christ in that moment.  Many of us were uncomfortable because bearing public witness to injustice is a risk and it unearths all the complexities of a system of power and privilege that we would often prefer to ignore.  Yet, as I walked the vigil road that evening with my feet still bearing dust from the desert, I imagined what kind of disciple I was—was I part of the crowd who yelled “crucify him”? Judas who betrayed him?  Peter who denied Jesus for fear of the systems in place? the women who wept at the feet of Jesus as he breathed his last?  And I prayed.

Holy Christ, You walked this earth to show us the way, died on a cross for us, and reign still today promising hope and new life.  Help me to be a witness.  Help me to point to the injustices in our world and to be a part of bringing about your kingdom on this earth.  Help me to recognize my brokenness.  Forgive me and summon in me the desire not to remain at the foot of the cross but to run toward the empty tomb and proclaim your resurrection with renewed hope this year.  Amen.

May you bear witness this weekend to the life, death, and resurrection of our risen Lord until he comes again.

Lenten Devotional by Nathan Proctor

NathanProctorSinging in a choir has always been an important part of my life.  I think there is something unique about a group of people that set aside parts of their life every week to not only sing but to worship together. These intimate communities have played such an important role in my faith throughout the different stages in my life.  They have helped me find my identity within the church, and have helped to discover and encourage my vocation.   In college I was lucky to be a part of the St. Olaf Choir my senior year at St. Olaf College in Minnesota. We practiced nearly two hours every day, which called for a level of commitment found almost nowhere else.  We ended up thinking and practicing and talking about choir at every chance we could find. (Yes we were huge choir nerds.)  Because of all the time we spent together, this group is where I made my closest friends and formed some of my deepest relationships.

We began our annual tour in Colorado that year, and that first Sunday we sang for the morning worship service at a choir member’s home church in Denver. She was a close friend of mine, and by sheer coincidence, her grandmother, also a beloved member of that congregation, passed away the day before. It was a moving worship service, and I will never forget after worship when my friend shared with the choir that she was caught up with so much grief and emotion that she was unable to sing. But then she thanked us, because our voices were there to sing for her.  It was our voices that stood beside her to sing not only about the pain of death, but to proclaim the good news of the resurrection even in a moment when she couldn’t.  In that beautiful moment her story, her grandmother’s story, my story, the congregation’s story all became wrapped up together in the words we sang.   As I continue to plan and lead music in worship, I often think about how we each take turns singing the story of our faith- that this song started long before us and will end long after us and we simply join our voices when we can.  I take great comfort knowing that the church in all times and places sings for me when I find myself in dark times without a voice.

I think there is something so powerful, so moving when we open our mouths to sing.  In this relatively small action we time and time again sing against the injustices that surround us in this world and share our love- share Christ’s love- with those around us.  Whether we sing against the injustice of death, illness, prejudice, or hate, we sing when countless others are unable to sing.  I know this is naive but I have faith that we do big things in song.  I fully believe that when we sing we stand against things that are wrong in our world, support those caught in the middle of injustice, yes both abuser and the abused, and we share the deep peace of the love of Christ. And I think all of these pieces are wrapped up together in ways that are difficult to separate or even understand.

I think that music, especially song, has the power to usher in a new world and I often think of the imagery in Revelation when John describes the angels, elders, and every living creatures singing together to bring about a new heaven and a new earth.  John writes in 15:13:  Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” It may be a while before we hear what this massive song of praise sounds like, but I don’t think we have to wait to join in.  Our faith assures us that we can join this song now, lifting our voices today for justice, love, and praise.

Prayer:

O Lord, let angels and archangels, dominions, thrones, and powers, with cherubim and seraphs now join in the joyful choir.  Let us sing glory in the highest and peace in earth and heaven.  Tell the words of wonder, “Fear not! Good news is given.”  Amen.

Lenten Devotional by Elizabeth Lester (T’14)

This Lent, a member of the Duke Presbyterian Campus Ministry will be sharing a devotion each week.   Our focus this Lent is around what it means to “take up your cross” and follow Jesus. The Lenten journey is a time of contemplation around how our faith compels us to come to know Christ more fully and to be a faithful disciple, so our devotions all center around the question: How does your faith compel you to respond with justice and love in the world?

 Devotional for the First Week of Lent

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights;

I have put my spirit upon him; He will bring forth justice to the nations.

He will not cry or lift his voice, or make it heard in the street;

A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench

He will faithfully bring forth justice.

He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth;

And the coastlands wait for his teaching.”

–Isaiah 42:1-4

elizabethI have known I wanted to be a lawyer since I was 8 years old, so I guess justice has always kind of been my “thing”.  Now here I am at Duke where every overachieving ambitious college student has plans to save the world.  Everyone here has a type of justice they’re seeking to achieve somehow whether that is in the form of human rights work, law, ministry, medicine, social work or, yes, even I-banking (I think.)  The thing is that history and reality has taught us that no matter how hard you try, no matter how much of your life you dedicate to these above areas, it is nearly impossible to actually achieve justice.  On top of that how do any of us even know what justice is?  Is it doing right?  Is it upholding the law?  And more importantly is it possible for justice for one to be injustice for another?

I read these verses from Isaiah and I realize that it is none of these things.  I have come to realize we find justice in the servant of God mentioned above, Christ.  This is Christ, a human, with the Spirit of God upon him.  And he did come to bring justice to the nations just as the prophet foretold.  However, looking around us today it can be hard to see that justice of the nations.  We have become numbed by senseless death in schools and on the streets due to terrible gun violence.  We have been inundated with so many reports of uprisings and violence in the Middle East that we have come to accept that many die and lose their loved ones every day and that this is just part of life over there.  We have allowed the false notion that many around us are unable to be with the ones they love to remain a reality.  Where is the justice that was brought to the nations in these places?  Where is the justice in our world now, in our daily lives and struggles?

I think that justice is right where Isaiah says it is in this passage.  It is with Christ; it is in Christ.  And he is in the midst of the injustice.  Even now, after all of this time he is still among the injustice and “he will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth.”  My faith in this allows me and compels me to respond with justice and love in this broken world.  Even when my faith is weak and hope is slim, this is something I can hold on to.  As we begin the Lenten season this is something that I hold on to for I know that over the coming weeks the injustice of everything, most importantly the injustice of Jesus’ death, will be at times too much to bear.  But it is a load that Jesus bore and still bears for us every day.

As I continue to try to be a lawyer it is important for me to realize that I will never bring about justice.  That is something I have to remind myself on this campus every day.  I know that I cannot achieve justice because justice is Jesus Christ.  It is only through God that justice is achieved.  The task of justice can seem daunting and an inevitable failure, but armed with faith I can try every day to understand more and more that there is justice in Christ.  This doesn’t mean that I am going to give up trying to fight injustice and hoping to be a lawyer just because I know that it is ultimately God from whom justice comes.  It means that it is my faith in God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, and not my education or potential future legal training that I can and always will be able to rely on for knowing how to act among the brokenness.  And that leads me to try and respond with justice and love as I go out in the world.

 

O Lord,

As we embark on our Lenten journeys ahead of us and remember the ultimate injustice of your son’s crucifixion, help us to remember that in sending your son to die for our broken selves you brought justice out of the unjust.  Lead us to use our faith to serve with justice and love in our world, every day, no matter how daunting the task or helpless we feel.  We pray this in your Son’s name,

Amen.

Beginnings

There are lots of ways to think about beginnings, about new formation and new creation. Scripture gives us multiple accounts of beginnings:

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep while the wind from God swept over the face of the waters.  Then God said, ‘Let their be light.’ and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good.”  (Gen 1:1-4)

OR

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him and without him not one thing came into being.  What has come into being through him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” (John 1:1-4)

These passages remind us of God’s abiding presence and creative activity at the outset of the journey.  Beginnings are filled with anticipation and uncertainty but also with a rich sense of expectation for all that God will do and all that we will discover and accomplish.   With that anticipation and excitement comes the challenge of discerning where this road will take you.  Will you follow the path of least resistance?  Will you choose to blaze an uncharted trail?  Will you risk failure?  Will your faith impact your choices?

Songwriter and musician David Bailey explores these questions in his music.  As he was diagnosed with and battled brain cancer, he wrote with honesty about the challenge of discernment along the road.  Standing at the beginning of a difficult and uncertain journey, his words captured that sense of the unknown where faith and doubt converge.   You can listen to his song here or read the lyrics below.

I don’t know where this road is going;
Don’t know when I will arrive.
Don’t know why it’s taking so long;
I’m just trying to learn the drive. 

I don’t know what I’m supposed to find there;
Don’t know who I’m supposed to be.
Don’t know how I’m gonna manage;
I’m just trying to believe.

I’ve got dozens of doubts on my doorstep.
I’ve walked 100 miles in a blind man’s shoes.
So if it seems like I don’t know where I’m going,
I’m just trying to believe in you.

As you begin a new school year, I invite you to consider how engaging your faith in Christian community might help you wrestle with these questions.  Stop by one of the Welcome Week Events on the calendar, “like” the Westminster Fellowship Facebook page, or add yourself to the list serve and  join us as we begin together and set forth on an unknown road trusting that God goes with us along the way and training our eyes to see the ways that God’s creative act propels us forth from beginning into the joyful adventure of life. 

And Jesus asked, “Who Do You Say that I Am?”

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’  He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’      -Mark 8:27-29

As I’ve been in conversation with students and friends over the last week, I’ve heard Jesus’ name used in a variety of ways.   Just like the disciples, it seems that we often struggle to discern exactly who this Jesus is that we are invited to follow.  Last week at Westminster Fellowship on Sunday evening (7:30-9:00–all are welcome!), we explored this question together.  Having watched a variety of video clips and shared our own images and understandings of Jesus, what we discovered was a multiplicity of images and names, some well aligned and others in apparent competition.   When asked, “Who is Jesus?” the list is as broad as this cloud of images:

 

Of course there is some truth to each claim.  Of course we can offer critiques of each of these as well.  If Jesus is simply my “homeboy,” what saving power does he bring?  If Jesus is a “political advocate,” what does that mean for how we are supposed to live in our own political context?   To say Jesus is “teacher” is true; he was a rabbi.  But if his identity is limited to “teacher” it denies his divine role in our salvation history and undercuts the power of his sacrifice on the cross and his victory in resurrection.  To say he is “my Savior” is good news, but our view can be expanded when we recognize that his saving power is not just for “me”.  He is not simply “my Savior” but “our Savior.”   Theologians have spent years dissecting and analyzing and critiquing Jesus.

When I read Mark’s gospel, I find a set of disciples constantly  pondering and wrestling with this question.  At least we know we’re in good company!  In all of Jesus’ teaching and healing and calming the sea and breaking barriers, the disciples continue to ask, “Who is this?”   Finally in the 8th chapter of Mark, Peter is able to respond, “You are the Messiah.”

Messiah literally means “anointed one.”  In the Reformed tradition, we acknowledge the biblical tradition of anointing of prophets, priests, and kings.   Jesus is prophet, the one who came to foretell and usher in a kingdom of justice and peace.  Jesus is priest, the one who intercedes for us and prays for us.  Jesus is king, the one whose kingship was embodied in servanthood.

Lest we allow Jesus to be simply who we want him to be, I wonder what it would really mean for us to proclaim, “You are the Messiah”?   We would follow the prophet and engage in the unfolding of God’s kingdom here on earth.  Why are you involved in that Saturday service project again?  Why did you have dinner at Urban Ministries?  We would follow the priest who taught us to pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven…”  And we would follow the king by embracing a servant’s life, seeking to love and care for all those we meet.   And when you met Jesus in the face of the stranger on the road and he asks, “Who do you say that I am?”  you won’t fumble with a messy cloud of words but can lean on a conviction held fast in your heart and embodied in your life.

Glory to God in the Highest and on Earth Peace…

“I’m never sure whether to wish anyone a peaceful Christmas, because it hardly ever is. But I can wish you joy in the midst of the mess, and every blessing from the God of ordinary, untidy, surprising things.”
–Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams

There was an aura of calm as I walked around campus today.  I went out looking for lunch, but all the restaurants on campus were closed.  A few people milled about including some visitors on campus for the men’s basketball game tonight, perhaps the one chance for non-students to get into Cameron Indoor Stadium for a game.  A trip to the gym gave me my choice of elliptical machines, a rarity on a normal day.  On the whole, the campus was quiet and peaceful.   And it was wonderful.

However… There is something incomplete about this place without students running to-and-fro, grabbing food in between classes, jockeying for position on the C-1 from East to West, scrambling from one meeting to the next.   Duke’s campus thrives on the energy and life and ideas that pulse through the university.  We do not rest well, yet we love it.

So in this Christmas season when we celebrate the one who came proclaiming PEACE, what exactly do we mean?  

Does peace mean stopping all that we are about?  Is peace synonymous with winter break and stepping away from all that normally fills our day-to-day life?  Is peace a bodily experience or a spiritual one, and are the two related?  Is there something more to learn when the angels proclaimed to shepherds in the field, “Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace among those whom he favors” (Luke 2:14)?

I sometimes wonder if people believe finding peace is simply about stepping away from everything for awhile, as if we will find peace if we just go on a retreat, or a vacation, or sit alone by candlelight and read the Bible.  Maybe that’s true for you…or at least it’s true for a few days after the barrage of final exams end!  But eventually we have to come back to everyday life–everyday life at home or at school or somewhere in between–and we want to experience peace not just when we are apart but when we are gathered together.

I do not believe that God’s angelic proclamation of peace at Jesus’ birth was intended to separate us or draw us away from real life.   Instead, I believe we were being called toward the manger, toward the messy, smelly, unexpected, surprising, radical truth that is God-with-us.  After all, the first response of the shepherds to the angels’ song in the quiet night sky was to gather up their sheep and head directly toward Bethlehem to encounter all that is truly ordinary about human life and to discover the holiness that rests alongside the ordinary.   So this Christmas, may you look for peace not simply in places that are quiet and serene but in spaces where you might encounter something holy simply by keeping your eyes open for God breaking into your everyday life.